If the Gophers needed a dose of reality before playing behemoth Duke on Thanksgiving Day, they got one.
The undefeated Gophers beat Richmond 72-57 at Williams Arena on Sunday in the team’s toughest test yet.
The Gophers trailed by seven with 10 minutes left in the game as Richmond kept it competitive in front of an announced crowd of 11,341.
But Minnesota and point guard Andre Hollins proved to be too much for the Spiders. The Gophers closed the game on a 30-8 run.
“This was a good test for us,” coach Tubby Smith said. “We needed a game like this.”
After starting their first three games on 15-0, 12-0 and 9-0 runs, Minnesota fell behind 22-13 to start and didn’t grab the lead until just before halftime.
The one-point lead at the half dissolved into a 49-42 deficit with 10 minutes to play.
Hollins, who had 14 points and a team-high seven assists, provided the spark Minnesota needed.
The sophomore ignited a 12-0 run by scoring seven points, capped off by a three-point shot that put the Gophers up for good.
“We kept our foot on their neck until the end, and we started buckling down defensively,” Hollins said. “I think that’s what propelled us to win.”
Trevor Mbakwe played a season-high 27 minutes and collected nine points and a team-high 12 rebounds.
Mbakwe had averaged just more than 12 minutes per game entering Sunday, but Smith and the Gophers needed his size on the glass after trailing 19-18 on the boards at halftime.
“Trevor gives us the best chance with his quickness on defense and guarding,” Smith said.
Minnesota won the rebounding battle 41-30 but struggled to take care of the ball.
The Gophers tied a season-high with 19 turnovers Sunday. Seven Gophers players turned it over at least twice.
“I’d like to see them each have one assist, not one turnover,” Smith said.
The Gophers’ stingy defense held Richmond to 33 percent shooting and 20 percent from the three-point line.
But the team coughed it up more than it could handle to start the game, as Minnesota had 12 of its 19 turnovers in the first half.
“We have to take care of our turnovers,” Hollins said.
The young point guard’s shooting ability came into question before the past two games. The sophomore had shot 2-for-15 entering Thursday’s game against Tennessee State.
He’s since shot 8-for-20 in two games, including 5-for-12 against Richmond.
“I just told him to keep shooting,” Austin Hollins said Thursday. “We’re going to need him out there, not just as a point guard.”
Austin Hollins served as a secondary spark plug for Minnesota, shooting 3-for-4 and scoring all of his 13 points in the second half against Richmond.
Minnesota can hit a jumper, but it still relies on senior forwards Mbakwe and Rodney Williams offensively.
Williams had a team-high 15 points and six rebounds Sunday.
The senior has seven dunks over the past two games and continues to embody how the Gophers want to play inside. Williams shot 6-for-10 on Sunday and is shooting just below 70 percent this season.
Smith said he’d like to see Williams take more shots.
“Rodney’s always been one of the more unselfish players that we’ve had in the five years I’ve been here,” Smith said Thursday, “sometimes to a fault.”
Williams is tied with Austin Hollins for a team-high 58 points this season. Williams said the adversity is a good thing for his Gophers.
“If we would’ve won this game like we’d been winning [them], not saying we’d [play Duke] cocky, but I don’t think it’d be the same,” Williams said.
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